Owen on digital media: Marketing is only as good as the people employed to do it

What's the toughest thing about operating in a young industry such as digital marketing? Educating colleagues and clients about what digital media can do? Ensuring people get involved in the process earlier at a more strategic level? Or, at the coal-face, working without a set of industry recognised research tools?

All these issues are sizeable and real. They justify the column inches that are devoted to them in the trade press. But none of them is the single biggest issue facing us all. So, what is? If you conducted a confidential poll of senior digital practitioners across agencies, clients and media owners, my guess is that you would get a very clear answer - hiring good people.

In many ways, this answer is inevitable. It's the plight of all new media companies when they first come along. In the 60s, all the best people in advertising worked in print and it took pioneers such as Alan Parker and Ridley Scott to bring TV to the fore.

Back then, they faced many of the same challenges that we are all facing now: how to make a technical medium seem simple to those who are not evangelists; how to work within new creative limits and tight budgets; and, above all, how to keep standards high when so few really talented practitioners want, or are able to work, with the new medium.

Whether you're talking about media, creative or client-side marketing, it is undeniable that our industry has been hindered by lack of experience, conviction and talent.

But, far from being depressed by this, I take heart from the fact that so many people are recognising this drawback, at least in private. There can be no surer sign that standards are being raised. These days, we all want to hire excellence. The trouble is finding it, which is why training is becoming a huge issue for everyone. To this end, the IPA is about to launch a stage 2 course in digital marketing this summer, which will help, but individual companies also need to take education a lot more seriously if they want to thrive.

Of course, the talent problem can be indirectly addressed by tackling all the other issues. As digital becomes increasingly important, better people will want to work in it. But, we need to address it directly too because digital will not become more important if we don't bring in better people of our own.


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